One of the great joys I have had as president is to learn and celebrate the history of this venerable institution. Reading stories about the bold leaders who took the initiative to create and shape this university into what it is today inspires and helps me understand the values and traditions that continue to shape the university we have become. One quickly develops an appreciation of UNC’s legacy as the first and only normal school in Colorado and the impact it has had on our past, present, and future.
Our history begins with the desire of Greeley’s citizens to establish a post-secondary school to address teacher preparation needs within our community and Colorado. Colorado State Senator James McCreery of Greeley was the principal force behind the legislation, Senate Bill 104, establishing what would then be known as the Colorado State Normal School, founded in 1889. Normal schools were created to train high school graduates for careers teaching elementary education. The fundamental concept behind these institutions was to be a place to train future teachers in the standards, or “norms,” of pedagogy, curriculum, and instruction – hence the name “normal schools.”
McCreery and other leaders who were instrumental in founding, building, and shaping our early history, including our first two presidents, were educated at or lead some of the best state normal schools in the nation. And, from the moment we opened our doors for the first day of classes on October 6, 1890, the Colorado State Normal School championed the normal school model by providing exemplary training and education to the state’s future teachers. Even as our institution evolved and grew to provide education and degrees in an expanding set of fields, we have flourished as a nationally recognized leader and innovator in education. Today, we celebrate the many UNC alumni who serve as teachers, school administrators, and other supporting roles in school districts in every Colorado county. How proud our forebears would be to know their work and the legacy that started in 1889 endures so many years later.
UNC’s continuing leadership in teacher preparation is exemplified by programs that advance and expand upon the mission that launched our institution’s earliest work—and this month presents a timely opportunity to celebrate our impact in the industry. On February 18, UNC will host the annual Future Teacher Conference, bringing together hundreds of aspiring educators from across the state to learn about the teaching profession, classroom strategies and tips, and pathways to becoming an educator.
In addition to this signature event, our students—and the communities they go on to serve—benefit from a number of other nationally recognized co-curricular education programs. Cumbres was founded to recruit, support, and mentor undergraduate students to address the shortage of Latinx teachers in K-12 education. Since 1997 it has prepared compassionate teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students, including English Language Learners. The program has provided $1 million in scholarship support and produced more than 400 teachers. The Center for Urban Education, located at UNC’s Denver Center at Lowry, works with a diverse student population to prepare them to teach in urban classrooms. The Center’s students work as paraprofessionals in the morning or afternoon and attend class in the evening. By the time these students graduate, they have had over 3,000 hours of experience working with children. And, the Colorado Center for Rural Education – which is located on UNC’s campus and provides service to all of Colorado’s public institutions of higher education – convenes, connects, and builds capacity for all of Colorado’s educator preparation programs, as well as rural school districts and the diverse stakeholders they represent, to improve educator recruitment and retention.
The work we do in these areas is all the more important now. Significant teacher shortages nationwide associated with the pressures of the pandemic are straining schools and districts. The latest employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there were more than 500,000 fewer local and state education employees in October 2021 compared to February 2020. Our state and nation are going to need to produce new teachers to fill the gaps, and fundamentally we need to lift up, celebrate, and reward the important role that teachers play in our society. As the state’s leader in teacher preparation, we are committed to doing our part to produce exceptionally well-trained and spirited educators to meet the need as we have done for more than 130 years.